Lily Allen is playing the main Academy venue, so we have trouble finding a parking space and are only just in time for the second support band the Joy Formidable. They come highly recommended from the previous night’s gig in Sheffield which they live up to – definitely a band to keep an eye on.

By the time Howling Bells come on the venue is packed and a number of us who sat down for too long find it hard to get a good view. The smallest Academy venue has a very small area in front of the stage and pillars block the view leaving a large area of unusable space. People are getting sharp as others try to force their way into the closely packed crowd. It would have been better to have the gig in Academy 3, which is bigger andnot being used tonight.

Howling Bells toured their first self-titled album extensively and to much acclaim. Their new album, 'Radio Wars', was long awaited and hotly anticipated, but while it is a good album it eludes that feeling of darkness and the gothic sensibilities of the first album. Hearing the songs from both played together live serves to highlight the differences rather than blend the two together.

When I finally get a spot where I can see the band, they seem more jaunty and lack the irascibility and edginess displayed at earlier gigs. It’s good that they are growing in confidence, but they need a return of that earlier energy and frisson. This is a time to capitalise on their popularity and keep moving forward. Some tracks from the new album complement the older material better, so it’s a matter of making sure that the order of the tracks works together.

I’m not going to write off Howling Bells just yet, but I do have concerns that they may change too drastically. There are lots of mediocre indie bands out there and it would be a great shame if they were to join those ranks rather than keeping a hold of that elusive individuality that makes them sparkle above all the rest.

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Commenting On: Academy 2, Manchester, 15/3/2009 - Howling Bells

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